Thirteen months ago, I published an article entitled 25 Things I did Instead of Getting Married At 25. It’s a polemic and judgemental piece about marriage and married people, spurred on by sensationalism. It was an overreaction to people I knew getting engaged, having babies, and posting pictures of their weddings on Facebook. Perhaps it was I, not they, who was scared shitless about the future.
I had been worried that people my age were choosing marriage, relationships, and children – what I viewed as symbols of conventional life – over careers, travel, and self-improvement. I wrote: How can they be my friends when we are so clearly of very different attitudes toward life?
I was proud of everything I’d achieved, having left my home country and arrived, alone, in China. I wanted to tell the world: there are other ways to live a fulfilling life. (Or did I think I needed to prove that some ways are better?) But, what I failed to ask myself was “why should their life choices reflect mine?”
I have always had conflicting views on marriage. Marriage doesn’t seem personally necessary when I know I could live a (financially, socially, politically) stable and independent life perfectly happily. It is difficult for me to see the relevance of an ancient social convention in modern life, particularly with its links to religious bodies that have never held a significant position in my life. It has been particularly hard to reconcile my feminism with the idea of one day getting married: marriage traditionally implied the ownership (and thus restriction) of a woman, and why would any woman willingly choose that?
Times have changed. People have changed. The nature of marriage has changed.
I would still argue that marriage is largely non-essential in modern Western life. I do still believe that marriage is not the only way to show you love someone. But I’ve stopped seeing it as “a pointless gesture people undergo to publicly declare their feelings”.
The very fact that it is non-essential for the majority of people is possibly the most powerful element of modern marriage. Rather than becoming insignificant, it possibly means more than it once did, purely because it is so heavily reliant on individual choice.
I would nevertheless advocate exploring a less conventional path through life, particularly for young people in countries where marriage is still the expectation. For example, many young Chinese women are still expected to get married by the time they are 27, under threat of becoming a “leftover woman” if they wait too long. Rather than be forced into marriage by the phantom “biological clock”, I believe the marriage question must be left to individual choice.
At 25 there’s still so much learning, growing, travelling to be done!
Perhaps there are many more interesting things you could do with your time than settle down with your mortgage and a brand new hubby. But marriage is not the end of life. In fact, it could just be the beginning. There’s still so much living to be done, that in 10 years time, you’re probably not going to be the same person you are right now. So if you’ve found someone who’ll love you for who you are in years to come, rather than who you once were, then you’re a very lucky person.
Getting married is not settling down, it is flying free together.
Nonetheless, it is with pride that I give you 25 things I did instead of getting married at 25:
- Fill up a passport five years before it expires
- Get a job that changes lives
- Move a few thousand miles from homeand stay there
- Live aloneand make your house your home
- Start a blogand publish things people actually read
- Meet friends with whom you only speak your second language(Korean)
- Begin studying a third language(Chinese)
- Make your own fresh coffee instead of buying it
- Create and nurture an indoor garden… keep the plants alive!
- Sing at an open mic eventunrehearsed
- Learn Capoeira
- Quit the job with the sexist boss
- Read non-fiction of your own choosing
- Study online courses
- Become financially independentwhich means doing your own tax returns & facing up to the Student Loans Company
- Vote in the UK elections from overseas
- Dance around naked in your living room
- Make your Dad proud so he tells you every time you talk
- Invite your Mother to visitand stay in your home
- Tell the world “I am a Feminist!”
- Actually make friends with colleagues
- Learn more about Buddhism
- Inspire people around you
- Celebrate Lunar New Year in proper Chinese style(over-eating and fireworks)
- Never stop setting new goals
post revised 10th April 2016
Read the original 25 THINGS I DID INSTEAD OF GETTING MARRIED AT 25 here (PDF)
Having It All: Career and Love: can we ever have it all? (Catherine and The Lion)